Dr Louise Irvine Meets South West Surrey Residents

I’m Louise Irvine. I’m a GP and Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for South West Surrey. I have had several meetings now in South West Surrey hearing about local issues.

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This was my first meeting in Farnham

Here is a transcription of one of the meetings I had with residents last month in Haslemere.

In Defence of the NHS

I’m a passionate defender of the NHS. It’s not perfect by any means but it’s certainly an excellent system that can be improved on. It’s not going to be improved by dismantling it, by breaking it up, by underfunding it, by privatising it and these are the things that are happening.

I actually, without scaremongering, do really believe that, especially if we get another Tory government in (and I’m not at all certain what will happen if we get a Labour government in) but I am very frightened for the future of the NHS and whether it will actually survive as a public service, one that is publicly funded and publicly provided, publicly accountable in another five years. I think we would end up moving into a situation where whatever is left of the NHS will just be a safety net, a third rate service for the very poor who can’t afford health insurance and that the vast majority of people will be forced to take out some kind of insurance and we’ll end up with a two tier system, something a bit, possibly even worse case scenario, like the US system.

But even if it doesn’t go as far as that I think we’re going to end up with the situation worsening of what we are already seeing which is the NHS is cracking at the seams and it is only surviving because of the hard work of all the people who are working in it.

Positive History of Community Activism

The other part of me is that I have always been a bit of a community activist. That’s just in my bones. So, for example, I helped to set up a campaign in my community over ten years ago for a new secondary school. There weren’t enough secondary school places so we set up a new school for New Cross but actually it was about in the wider area. We won. We ended up eventually getting the council to agree to a new state secondary school. We also managed to change the admissions policies of all the other state secondary schools who were covertly selecting. They were supposed to be comprehensive but they were finding ways of selecting the cream of the crop and thus disadvantaging other children and families. It was not fair. It was covert and sneaky. We managed to change that by challenging it. That was a fantastic campaign which involved hundreds and hundreds of parents across the whole community.

Successfully Fought Against Hospital Closure

A couple of years ago, when they threatened to close our local district general hospital, which was a very good local hospital. Again, not perfect but a good, decent and local general hospital. We organised a fantastic campaign in Lewisham. It exceeded all our expectations. And the reason was, we learned through that campaign how to connect with people. We connected with people who do not in any other ways see themselves as political or anything but they just felt – hang on a second, you can’t take that away from us. It is not a perfect hospital but it is our hospital and we want to keep it. We had a demonstration of 25,000 people just in one tiny borough of London. There were people who had never before been on a demo. Even now, people still talk about it. I bump into health visitors and district nurses and they still talk about being on that demo. It was life changing for them because it was the first time that we had got together as a whole community to express something.

Second Win in Court

That gave us the courage to take Jeremy Hunt to court. Our council took him to court too. But we did it in parallel because we weren’t sure the council were going to do it. We raised 1000s of pounds to pay our legal fees in case we lost. We had a huge fundraising campaign and again the fundraising campaign was a great way to involve the community, everyone from Millwall FC, to small businesses, to local schools, to pubs running pub quizzes for us, the churches, the mosque, the temple across all the different faith groups etc. It is very multi-faith and multi-cultural where I am from. Anyway, we took him to court, saying his decision to close our hospital was unlawful and we won. The government went for appeal which was really stupid of them because it was obvious they were going to lose. At appeal you have three judges. It was last November. The judges took five minutes to throw it out. They had put two days aside. I decided I’d take the afternoon off work on the last day so I could be there to hear. But actually, on the first day, at the end of the morning when the government put its appeal arguments forward, the judges retired, came back in five minutes and just threw the whole thing out. So, that was a fantastic victory. And, again it shows the strength of community campaigning.

The National Health Action Party

The National Health Action Party is a party started off by mainly doctors; in fact Richard Taylor is one of the co-founders. He won in Wyre Forest twice in Kidderminster. Then we got other people involved including nurses and other people who are not health workers. At the end of the day, many people are fed up of politics and politicians and the main parties. If you think about it, politicians and government make really important decisions that affect all our lives. They are making decisions about health, education, environment, you name it. People become apolitical and apathetic. What they are doing is just leaving these guys a free hand to do what they like, almost handing them our power. In a democracy, we need to demand that our politicians actually represent us. There is a crisis of representation. Around the world we are seeing this in different places that people feel they are not being represented. People want to be better represented. There is this idea that politicians could be ordinary people. That they have lived and done a proper job and know something about the real world should be there to represent. We feel we want to bring the whole issue of what is happening to the NHS out there. We want to challenge the politicians. We want to get some press coverage. The media is not covering it. Most people don’t really know what is really happening within the NHS. Many health workers don’t really understand. They know about what is happening to their little bit but they don’t necessarily see the big picture. They haven’t been presented with any real arguments. They feel something is wrong but they need to be given the arguments so they can counter the propaganda and lies and spin that they are being sold. We think there is a role for a party that will focus on the NHS but not exclusively the NHS. That is why we are not called the National Health Service Party.

We are the National Health Action Party. Health has got many wider determinants than just the NHS. We know that. Housing is crucial. Good housing is crucial to good health. Poverty and inequality is one of the main determinants of ill health. Environmental things are vital to health. Transport policy and whether people can walk and cycle. Food policy and whether people have enough food to eat but also the quality of the food they are getting. We think there are wider issues we need to bring up. Town planning is another issue that is very strongly related to health. Healthy environments and healthy communities also need good infrastructure that supports that.

Join My Campaign

Someone asked me, why not just stand as an independent as you are free then from any sense that you’re a politician being controlled by a party. In our party, we are not going to have any party whip. All of us will broadly follow our party’s policies on health matters and health-related matters but on other matters we would be free to vote with our conscience and with what the constituents want and what their views are. And decisions will be evidence-based. In medicine we have to practise evidence-based medicine. All the time you hear politicians ignoring expert evidence. They have lots of evidence about education but they completely ignore it. I think we should have an evidence-based approach.

If you are supporting someone like me, you’d get independent plus. I’ll be independent but the plus part is that I’ll also be linked in with a party that has an awful lot of expertise now. We’ve got public health professors, doctors and experts helping to develop our policies which are viable and alternative policies on health to the ones that are being presented by all three major parties to tell you the truth.

I think it is something worth doing. We live in a democracy. Why can’t people be given a choice? Why can’t they vote for something else that is a bit different? If people are apathetic and think it is going to be same old same old, it will just be same old same old.

I’m up for this. I think this is very exciting. I’ve been finding out lots of very interesting things. But, I need support. We’ve got about 50 people who have signed to say they want to support the campaign. But this is the chance for people, for all of you to get the issues that you care about aired and out there. Whether it is about staffing levels or support for staffing levels. Whether it is about transport issues, town planning issues. Whether it is about the kind of representation we want and if we want politicians who are actually open and transparent and trying to represent their population. All of those things are the things that you could help to raise if you got involved. We will raise all these vital issues that otherwise do not ever get talked about.

 This was my first meeting in Haslemere

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